From all that we went through?
Or was it worth the same
To do again?
--The Statler Brothers, "Here We Are Again"
The top six had a nice night, let's get that out of the way first. Dustin Penner - Sam Gagner - Ales Hemsky looked a step slow in the first period but they weren't out of the game and their play picked up steadily through the game. The second line was also quite good, though Taylor Hall's chaos seems very out of place compared to Jordan Eberle's skating Tai Chi.
The fourth line put an effort in and looked miles better than the third line, but they were still in tough. It's not their fault though, they shouldn't be out against the opponent's first or second line - ever.
But the big story is the penalty kill. I know, I know, you're all shocked that the Oilers penalty kill may be a tiny bit below average. I know you were expecting those off-season penalty killer signings of ... oh and .... right, to immediately contribute. The only thing missing from the return to the last two seasons was a post-game interview in which Ethan Moreau blames Anton Lander for the team's failures.
- Shawn Horcoff was fantastic everywhere except the faceoff circle. He was skating well, he was on the puck, he made a number of excellent defensive zone plays, covering for Taylor Hall in particular at least twice. He had a couple of dandy steals as well.
- The Gagner line was very good. They controlled the puck and the zone. Dustin Penner had four shots on goal, including a beauty one-timer on a set-up from Ales Hemsky.
- Kevin Lowe / Steve Tambellini's personnel management is biting the team in the tucchus for the fourth year in a row. I'm beginning to tire of writing about it, but the team desperately misses Marty Reasoner or Mike Peca or Jarret Stoll. Someone, anyone, that can play on this third line between Paajarvi and Brule, win a faceoff and kill penalties. The Andrew Cogliano as NHL center experiment should've lost funding eighteen months ago.
- In a hard-hitting interview at intermission, Gene Principe asked Steve Tambellini what exactly his job is now that there is no trade deadline or free agency. Tambellini's answer, and I'm not kidding "we're in a period of assesment".
- A penalty killer, a penalty killer, Andrew Cogliano for a penalty killer! Well, not just a penalty killer, but someone that can also win faceoffs and win a puck battle or two or three. The penalty kill was horrific against the Wild, but one would expect this as the Wild have a great Finn on their power play and the Oilers have one experienced penalty-killing forward and zero high-level penalty killers on the blue. My solution for this is simple - put Brule and Cogliano out together to kill penalties. They spend the majority of their night in the defensive zone and a good shift for them is a dump out to the neutral zone, so they already have the stategy down pat.
- Kurtis Foster and Ryan Whitney were abysmal tonight. NHL.com has the Oilers down for four total giveaways, but I counted five from Foster alone. Foster was 0-6 in scoring chances, Whitney was 2-7 and Foster took two lazy penalties which, for the Edmonton Oilers, count for .5 GA each. Maybe it was the return to Minnesota or something but that was an awful performance. The Oilers defense could sure use a veteran penalty killer and second minutes guy like Sheldon Souray. They should look him up and see if he's available.
- Everything about the Oilers third line except for Brule in the faceoff circle. Brule won four of his five faceoffs and that was it. Cogliano won one of seven in the circle for an impressive 14%. Cogliano's single game Corsi was (-7), Paajarvi's (-6) and Brule's (-4) in just twelve minutes for Cogliano and slightly under twelve minutes for Brule at even strength. They were 0-3, 0-4 and 0-3 in scoring chances at even strength. Either find them some protection or break that line up. Which bring us to...
- Tom Renney's Rawhide methods are great for evaluation or a Steve Tambellini assessment, but as they've proven already, Steve Tambellini assessments don't win hockey games. At 14:53 of the first period, the Cogliano line found their way into the offensive zone, actually maintained possession and got a shot on net for the freeze. Down 1-0 in the first with an offensive faceoff, does noted strategist Tom Renney call for Horcoff with Hall and Eberle or Gagner with Penner and Hemsky? Neither. Renney doesn't tap anyone on the shoulder, he just yells out "Move 'em on, head 'em up, Head 'em up, move 'em out!" and over the boards comes Jones - Fraser - Stortini. Would anyone like to guess what happened next? Fraser won the faceoff but Whitney missed the net, Minnesota carried it in to the offensive zone and got a shot and a shot blocked. He continues put Gilbert Brule and Andrew Cogliano out on the power play as a third unit. It's the regular season now fellas, the time to "see what we have" is over. Start coaching like you mean it.
Below is the Head-to-Head Even Strength Ice Time courtesy of Vic Ferrari at Time On Ice, the table is sortable by Oilers sweater number: